Anti-abortion advocates gained another powerful voice in the Trump administration last week when Donald Trump appointed Charmaine Yoest to serve as assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
There, she’ll oversee digital communications and coordinate public affairs across Health and Human Services’ regional offices. But as the former president and CEO of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion organization that helps states craft legislation to restrict abortion, Yoest was a leading light in the anti-abortion movement, championing extreme views — and sometimes false information.
These are five of Yoest’s more controversial positions:
Studies show abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer
“As a breast cancer survivor, the spin on abortion and breast cancer really troubles me,” Yoest told the New York Times Magazine in 2012. “Why can’t you report what the research actually shows?”
Americans United for Life includes breast cancer on a list of the “health risks of abortion,” claiming that 70 studies have looked at the link between it and breast cancer. “Of these studies, 57 showed a positive association between having an abortion and developing breast cancer, 34 of which were statistically significant,” the group’s website reads.
But medical organizations like the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that abortion simply does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Old, flawed studies found a relationship between abortion, miscarriage, and breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute explains, but subsequent better-designed research has not found any such association between abortion and breast cancer.
What is true is that breast cancer has been shown to be related to the amount of exposure to hormones produced by the ovaries. Because pregnancy and breastfeeding tend to decrease exposure, having a baby earlier in life correlates with a reduced risk of breast cancer later in life.
Abortion should be prohibited in cases of rape
Yoest does not believe there should be an abortion exemption for rape or incest, though she’s extremely careful when discussing it with the media. For instance, when asked about it by a reporter in 2012, she said that discussing “the minutiae of the rape exception is not where it’s at at all.”
That same year, in a post for the National Review after Republican Missouri Rep. Todd Akin said that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t need access to abortion because biology prevents them from becoming pregnant, Yoest had this to say:
“The most eloquent defenders of the value of every human life are people like my friends Ryan Bomberger and Rebecca Kiessling, both of whom were conceived in rape. Today Ryan and Rebecca are vibrant reminders of the truth that Life has value, no matter its beginnings.”
The federal Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer dollars from paying for abortion services, allows for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency.
IUDs have “life-ending properties”
Or so Yoest said in that same New York Times Magazine piece. Because some types of IUDs can potentially prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus, anti-abortion advocates sometimes argue that such birth control devices end — not just prevent — pregnancy.
Such an argument, however, requires a fundamental rewriting of how most doctors define pregnancy. Currently, the Department of Health and Human Services defines pregnancy as encompassing “the period of time from implantation until delivery.” IUDs don’t work after implantation and thus can’t end pregnancies, according to an American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists statement entitled “Facts Are Important.”
Abortion rates are down because more women are thinking like Yoest
‘‘There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture. There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born,” Yoest told the Associated Press in 2015, suggesting that the decrease in abortions in the U.S. is due to more women rejecting abortion and choosing to stay pregnant — instead of being due to, say, an increase in access to contraception.
But Elizabeth Ananat, an associate professor of economics at Duke University who studies the economics of fertility, points out that if this were true, U.S. birth rates would also be on the rise, and they’re not. Instead, Ananat found fewer women are getting pregnant in the first place.
Doctors should be legally obligated to tell patients nonsurgical abortions can be reversed
While Yoest was at the helm, Americans United for Life developed model legislation requiring doctors to inform women that they could “reverse” abortions done non-surgically. In other words, the organization contended that in cases of abortions induced by medications, women could reverse the effects simply by taking even more pills.
Arkansas and Arizona passed laws based on that legislation in 2015, prompting Yoest to say in a statement, “No medical reason exists to deny mothers the opportunity to choose life by sharing with them all their options.”
But there’s no credible medical proof that such a reversal is possible. “Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence,” the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said in a 2015 fact sheet on the Arizona law, adding that taking a massive dose of the hormone progesterone could have dangerous side effects for women.